/07 Trees

Joseph O. Holmes

NYC Xmas Tree Vendors

The Xmas tree vendors appear on Manhattan street corners like clockwork every winter. They arrive before the snow and unfurl their spruces and balsams and frasers along the curb, filling the air with that primal evergreen scent.

I studied the Christmas tree vendors for several years as I passed their corners, imagining how I’d frame each seller against the contours of the soft trees and the harsh textures of the street. In December 2010 I finally set aside the time to pursue them as a project, heading out with my camera and tripod every cloudy day to scour the city for vendors willing pose in exchange for a print. I managed about 20 final portraits before Christmas arrived and they all disappeared.

I had romanticized the vendors, as if they were something out of “Miracle on 34th Street.” I grew up in a rural town where my dad would grab a saw and head up to our friends’ Christmas tree farm at the top of town. A tree might cost five dollars, but he’d have to lay on the frozen ground to cut the thing down. I imagined the Manhattan vendors were like our local farmers, tending trees all year on Canadian farms and then trucking them to New York to sell on the corners. Only when I started introducing myself did I discover that it’s actually an extremely competitive business, dominated by a few companies which lay claim to specific corners around the city year after year, shipping trees in from various farms around the Northeast. Probably half the vendors I photographed were temporary hired hands from Europe and Central America, coming to New York for a month to stand in the cold and sell. On the other hand, a couple of the vendors did fit my fantasy. One guy named Tom drives his pickup down from Alaska every December with his wife and little boy.